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3 Ways I’m Fixing My Relationship With Money After Growing Up Low-Income

My name is Christina, and I am an under-buyer.

As an under-buyer, I usually make do with what I already have. This means eating broccoli in my tacos because I don’t have lettuce in the house, printing an essay on the back of my syllabus because I ran out of printer paper, and not attending water aerobics class because my nine-year-old bathing suit broke, and I haven’t bought a new one. I recently realized that not having the things I kind of need to have is negatively impacting my life by causing more stress. I know — it’s not too hard of a connection to make.

How did I figure this out? I spent literally hours on Craigslist looking at couches, keeping the tab pulled up on my computer for days, until the couch I had my eye on was gone. This happened three times! Why? Because I kept saying to myself, “Is this the right time to get a couch?” “Am I making a mistake?” “Is a couch really necessary?” I should also mention that I am moving in to my first unfurnished apartment in less than a month…I need a couch. However, my under-buyer tendencies won’t let me pull the trigger on purchases big or small until the purchase is absolutely necessary, even if it would make my life easier.

What is influencing my under-buying habits:

Growing up low-income:

My family had to deeply consider every purchase in order to stick to our strict budget when I was growing up. My mom didn’t buy things until she was able to fit it into the budget. Even though my finances now are in a good place, one where I can buy a new pair of black flats for work when I need them, I convince myself I don’t need them yet, because my old ones “still work” even though they are worn through and nasty.

Minimalism is in:

Everyone is coming up with new decluttering strategies because if you have less, you will be happier, right? And I don’t want to be a consumerist American surrounded by junk! I’ve seen the TV show Hoarders and I really don’t want to be on it! This minimalistic thinking makes me afraid of buying something that I will have to throw out later. I’ve had this cute set of alphabet letter stamps that I know I will use on every page in my scrapbook sitting in my online shopping cart for about four months now. I can’t bring myself to spend the $6.99 on them, because I don’t want to regret the purchase, or worry about getting rid of them if I decide that they are just clutter.

Save for the future:

I started saving my birthday money for college when I was in second grade, and am currently very concerned about not having a retirement account set up, even though I just graduated from college. Going back to the couch example, if I don’t buy a couch now, I can put that money toward a nicer couch a few years down the road. Will that ever happen? Probably not. I could just make another excuse, like wanting to save for a house to put my future nice couch in.

So, with my under-buying habits in mind, I put together a game plan to change those habits and function a little bit more like an adult who has her life together.

Here’s my plan of action:

1. Keep a “pre-approved purchases” list in my planner: Everything that makes this list is something that I can buy without second-guessing myself and putting it off. If I come across a swimsuit I like, I’ll buy it. If I need a grocery item, it goes in the cart, no questions asked. This eliminates part of the decision-making process when it comes to buying, because I already made the call.

2. Consult trusted friends: My friends think I’m ridiculous, but that’s okay. Yes, I’ve gotten weird looks when I come back from the grocery store with $7.00 worth of groceries. I know that my friends do want what is financially best for me, and want me to be happy. I still can’t always make myself buy the much-needed larger item, like snow tires to keep my tiny car on the road whilst surviving Michigan winters. I am able to trick myself by asking a friend or family member if an item is reasonable for me to buy. Sometimes, I need the extra confirmation to assure me that I’m not being frivolous or unwise in making a purchase.

3. Turn buying into a project: Goal-setting has always been a motivator for me, so when I heard this piece of advice on the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, I knew I had to try it. Instead of tackling each purchase head-on, I can group them by saying, “I want to have a fully-stocked pantry by the end of the month,” or, “I want to have a comfortable living room that is functional and represents my style.” These goals shift the focus from the items to the lifestyle, which minimizes the power my under-buying tendencies have in the purchase.

The first step in having a healthier relationship with my buying habits was identifying both the problem and the causes of that problem, then sitting down to make a plan that will force me to conquer the problem. I’m still an under-buyer, but I am making progress in having a healthy relationship with the money I spend.

Christina is a Michigander currently serving as an AmeriCorps. member. She loves her planner so much that she made it an Instagram. Christina also enjoys learning new skills and reading in bed.

Image via Unsplash

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  • Rebecca Ann

    Another Michigan girl! That uses a planner! Let’s be friends =)
    Also, I have noticed that while I’m trying to save an emergency fund and payoff credit cards, I have been very much an under-buyer of certain things. I relate to this very much.

    • Christina Igl

      Yay Michigan and planners!! So glad you could relate! I wasn’t sure if under-buying was a “just me” thing — it’s nice to know there are others out there! 🙂

  • Caitlin

    Oh my gosh, I loooove Gretchen Rubin and think about the four tendencies constantly when I read TFD, so I extra loved this! I think it’s great that you’re giving yourself goals to work towards to get out of this habit. I do think this extreme is preferable to the opposite, but it definitely has its own struggles! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Christina Igl

      She is awesome!! I definitely think about the four tendencies when I read TFD too and I’m so glad you liked the Gretchen meets TFD mash up haha 🙂 Also, I totally agree with you, I would rather be an under-buyer! If you don’t listen to Gretchen’s podcast that she does with her sister, I would recommend it!

  • LeLeP

    Personally, I use YNAB (You Need A Budget) to add categories for those items I want. Once I have hit my targeted savings goal for the item, I can purchase it. It is like layaway 🙂

    • Christina Igl

      That’s a super good idea! I’ll check it out for sure. Thanks for the tip!